The Global Battle Worth its Weight in Gold
worth its weight in Gold
The sporting world will come to a standstill for a month this year as the world’s biggest football event takes center stage. Yes, the 21st edition of FIFA World Cup will be played out in Russia, and this is the first time the event has come to Eastern Europe. Thirty-two national teams will be contesting the FIFA World Cup, with the perennial participants like Germany (current holders), Brazil, Spain, Argentina, England and Portugal hoping for glory. Others like Iceland and Panama will be making their first ever appearance, hoping to make an impression. Games will be staged in thirteen cities with Moscow and Saint Petersburg being the most popular venues followed by Sochi, Kazan and Samara. Wolf Zabivaka, the FIFA World Cup Russian 2018 mascot, was designed by student designer is Ekaterina Bocharova. Global brand Adidas has once again designed the match ball, called Telstar 18, named after the first ever Adidas World Cup match ball designed in 1970. With the opening just weeks away, many are wondering how this edition of the FIFA World Cup will pan out. Russia, as hosts, have not had the momentum they would have hoped for. They are tipped to make the round-of-16 at least but will have to battle it out with Mohammed Salah’s Egypt. The Pharaohs, by the way, will be hoping their main protagonist recovers in time from a shoulder injury he sustained in the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid just weeks before the Tournament kicks off. Ranked first in the Football World, Germany are perhaps the best bet to win their first backto-back FIFA World Cup honors. They have a good combination of skill, experience, youth and discipline and are not overly dependent on any one player but have quality players throughout their squad. They are complete team with an impressive defensive record, and a potent offense as well. Having won their first World Cup in South Africa eight years ago, Spain are also looking impressive leading up to the showdown in Russia. In qualifying they finished ahead of Italy, winning 9 games and not losing any. The outcome of their clash with Christiano Ronaldo’s Portugal will determine which
side of the draw they fall in which could potentially see them challenging Germany in the final. Traditionally, the European teams are likely to dominate the tournament because it is being held in Europe. Historically, no South American team has won a FIFA World Cup on European soil since Brazil won in Sweden back in 1958. Can a South American team win in Russia? Brazil and Argentina would certainly like to think so. Brazil have had an impressive qualifying campaign, finishing top of the CONMEBOL qualifying group. Having failed miserably four years ago when they hosted the tournament, they look eager to make amends this year. They beat Germany 1-0 in a friendly in March where they looked sharp both in defense and offense. Neymar will lead the charge assisted by the likes of Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho. Argentina will be smarting from their loss in the final at the hands of perennial enemies Germany. Widely regarded as the year Lionel Messi brings the Cup back to Argentina, they went all the way to the pinnacle only to fall short thanks to an extra-time goal by German youngster Mario Gotze. Argentina had only themselves to blame for not taking the many chances that came their way to score and win. This year, the pressure is back on Messi and his charges as the football-mad nation gets behind their hero hoping yet again that he can win them the prize that’s been eluding them since Maradona brought it home in 1986. France are also looking good this year. Having won the cup when they hosted the event back in 1998, gracing the final again in 2006, and losing to eventual winners Germany four years ago, France will be looking to upset the tournament favorites this time around. If the knock-out round draws favor them, France could be playing in the final again this year. Certainly, a team to watch. Belgium and England are two other European teams bringing a youthfull and talented squad to Russia. Both have enough quality to make it to the semi-finals at least. Of the African nations represented at the event this year Nigeria are certainly looking like they will do well. But will the current champions of Africa go beyond the quarter-final stage, where four years ago Ghana faltered at the hands of Luis Suarez’s Uruguay? Son Heung-min’s Korea Republic looks the likeliest of the Asian participants to do well in Russia, however, Iran have the potential to be the dark horses of the FIFA World Cup 2018. They were the second team, behind Brazil, to qualify for this year’s event after finishing ahead of Korea Republic in the Asian qualifying rounds. The debutants Iceland and Panama will surely be no pushovers. Panama knocked out United States in qualifying and could create upsets if the likes of Belgium and England make the mistake of taking them too lightly. England would know the risk of underestimating the underdogs when they were unceremoniously beaten by Iceland at the EUROs only two years ago. Can Iceland repeat their impressive run at EURO 2014? There will be a total of sixty-four games played in Russia before the dust settles and the winner emerges, including forty-eight games in the round-robin stage. Spain vs Portugal on matchday 2 is perhaps the most anticipated battle along with the clash between England and Belgium later on in the tournament. The possibility of a Portugal vs Argentina quarter-final is a mouth-watering proposition for every football fan hoping to watch Ronaldo take on Messi on the FIFA World Cup stage. Regardless of whether you side with Messi or Ronaldo, Germany of Brazil, one thing is certain. The biggest soap opera in the world has arrived once again after a long fouryear wait. It doesn’t matter if you follow football or not, there is no way you can escape the excitement and anticipation, the joys and the tears, this event brings with it. The 21st FIFA World Cup is here.